The 10 Most Intriguing True Crime Stories of the Decade

Netflix
Netflix

The public’s fascination with true crime has never been stronger. Thanks to binge-worthy streaming docuseries, podcasts, books, and longform articles, tales of murder, deception, betrayal, and judicial intrigue often supersede fiction. With the decade winding to a close, take a look at 10 true crime stories that kept us obsessed with the darker corners of the human psyche.

1. Serial's subject: Adnan Syed

National Public Radio’s Serial podcast debuted in 2014. Almost immediately, the plight of Adnan Syed became a topic of national conversation. In 1999, Syed, then a Baltimore high school student, was arrested for the murder of girlfriend Hae Min Lee, who had been found strangled in a local park. The following year, Syed was sentenced to life in prison based largely on the testimony of a friend, Jay Wilds, who claimed he helped Syed bury Lee’s body. The case largely flew under the radar until Serial began excavating. The episodic series, which delivered reveals in near-real time—an eyewitness providing an alibi for Syed, Wilds's wavering confession—recruited listeners who were adamant Syed is innocent and others who were convinced he’s guilty. Currently, Syed is still a murderer in the eyes of the law: The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal in November 2019.

2. Reversal of Fortune: Robert Durst

When 2010’s All Good Things starring Ryan Gosling was released, it was thought of as little more than a well-made true crime thriller. Gosling played real estate fortune heir Robert Durst, a man suspected in the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen. But the director, Andrew Jarecki, didn’t let the Durst saga go. In 2015, he directed The Jinx, a multi-part HBO series that was unique in that it gave Durst himself a chance to speak out against the allegations that he was involved in his wife's disappearance or in the death of his friend, Susan Berman, among other suspicions. The eccentric Durst made for a captivating figure, and an ill-timed comment caught on tape proved to be incriminating. Durst is currently awaiting trial in Los Angeles for the murder of Berman. It’s slated to begin in February 2020.

3. Netflix’s Most Wanted: Steven Avery

Can a man once wrongly accused of assault and later exonerated be guilty of an unrelated murder? That was the question running through 2015’s Making a Murderer, the Netflix docuseries that examined the case of Steven Avery, who was convicted of rape in 1985 at age 22 in Wisconsin and later freed by DNA evidence after spending 18 years of a 32-year sentence in prison. Just two years after getting out, Avery was charged with the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach, whose vehicle and charred remains were found on his salvage yard property. Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, confessed to aiding his uncle, but Dassey’s age (16) and limited mental acuity put his words in doubt. The series kicked off Netflix’s reputation as a go-to outlet for true crime and helped cement the popular true crime trope of putting prosecutors in the crosshairs. Dassey is currently seeking clemency from the state; Avery is appealing his 2007 conviction and awaiting a response from the state in order to move forward with the Court of Appeals.

4. The Golden State Killer: Joseph James DeAngelo

His crimes may have been a generation ago, but justice was finally served in 2018, when Joseph James DeAngelo, a.k.a. the Golden State Killer or East Area Rapist, was arrested after evading capture for decades. From 1976 to 1986, DeAngelo terrorized the Sacramento area with a series of more than 50 rapes and 13 murders, though those numbers don’t likely represent the true scope of his crimes. Both professional and amateur investigators remained on his trail, including Michelle McNamara, who authored the 2018 book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark about the case, but passed away in 2016 before seeing its completion. The book was finished and published posthumously. Shortly thereafter, DeAngelo, a former police officer living as a retiree, was linked to the spree via his DNA. The case proved that it’s never too late to make someone accountable. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if DeAngelo is convicted of any one of the 13 counts of murder. He's awaiting trial.

5. Text and Context: Michelle Carter

It was a love story for the digital age: Michelle Carter, 17, and boyfriend Conrad Roy, 18, were separated by only 35 miles in Massachusetts but rarely saw each other in person. Bonding with Carter via text, Roy expressed symptoms of depression. Carter was at first supportive, but eventually began to encourage him to take his own life. When he finally did, she was charged with and convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2017. The semantics of the case—which hinged on whether someone can be culpable in a murder when they weren’t even physically present—was married with the emotional implications of social media and illustrated in HBO’s two part documentary, I Love You, Now Die, in 2019. Carter’s 15-month sentence will be up in 2020.

6. The Matricide: Gypsy Rose Blanchard

It’s hard to come up with a justification for matricide, but in the strange saga of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, anything is possible. In 2015, Gypsy Rose was accused of conspiring with a boyfriend she met online to murder her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard. Gypsy Rose’s motive was unusual: She wanted Dee Dee killed because for years her mother had told her she was unwell and, believing her, Gypsy Rose allowed her mother to care for her in a Munchausen syndrome by proxy dynamic. Gypsy Rose was presented as having leukemia or muscular dystrophy, and endured multiple surgeries and medical procedures for her nonexistent ailments. As Gypsy Rose grew older, she became more cognizant of the delusion, finally enlisting Nicholas Godejohn to stab Dee Dee to death. The court, however, couldn’t ignore the enormity of abuse suffered by Gypsy Rose over the years. Sentenced to second-degree murder in 2016, Gypsy Rose is serving 10 years in prison and will be eligible for parole in 2024; Godejohn received a life sentence. Gypsy Rose's story was told in the 2016 HBO documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, then dramatized in the 2019 Hulu series The Act. Gypsy Rose has said that despite prison’s oppressive environment, she has more freedom behind bars than she did under her mother’s thumb.

7. The Silicon Valley Scam: Elizabeth Holmes

In a very different kind of bloodletting, start-up mogul Elizabeth Holmes took the tech world by storm in 2014 by promoting Theranos, which promised to revolutionize how blood tests were administered. Instead of large vials, blood could be analyzed in tiny amounts. But Theranos didn’t have the science, validity, or technology to stand up to scrutiny. A 2018 Wall Street Journal article by John Carreyrou exposed Holmes’s deception, which amounted to fraud in excess of $700 million. A 2019 HBO documentary, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, added to her in infamy. She’s currently awaiting trial in August 2020.

8. The Elevator Girl: Elisa Lam

In addition to being one of the most cryptic cases of the decade, the fate of Elisa Lam might go down as one of the most haunting in the history of the true crime genre. In January 2013, Lam was captured on surveillance footage acting erratically in the elevator of a Los Angeles hotel, waving her arms and pushing buttons seemingly at random. A month later, she was found dead inside a water tank located on the roof. Lam, a Vancouver native, was a 21-year-old tourist with no known ties to the area. The coroner declared it an accidental drowning, and Lam was known to have bipolar disorder. But other questions remain. To this day, how she managed to gain access to the roof—which was protected by a locked door—and what circumstances led to her being found in the water tank remain a mystery.

9. The Silk Road: Ross Ulbricht

The darker side of the internet was personified by Ross Ulbricht, who created and operated the Silk Road in 2011, the informal name given to an online black market where anything from drugs to weapons to murders-for-hire could be transacted. A Wild West of commerce, the Silk Road became notorious for its seedy inventories, all of it permitted by Ulbricht, also known as the Dread Pirate Roberts. After the site was shuttered by federal law enforcement in 2013, Ulbricht was convicted of trafficking in illegal narcotics, among other charges, and was also linked to attempting to solicit the deaths of people whose testimony might prove damaging. He’s currently serving a life sentence. The “dark web,” however, is still very much alive.

10. The Gentleman’s Club Crime Ring: Samantha Barbash, Roselyn Leo, Karina Pascucci, Marsi Rosen

As dramatized in 2019’s Hustlers starring Jennifer Lopez, a squad of adult entertainers decided to take the one-percent for a ride in a Robin Hood tale—presuming Robin wore extremely tall heels. The story first broke in 2014, when New York media reported on doctors and other white-collar professionals alleging they were drugged and had tens of thousands of dollars in credit card charges racked up during outings to the popular Scores club and others in the city. Law enforcement was already on the case, with evidence pointing to the scam originating after the financial crisis of 2008. An indictment was handed down that year charging four dancers—Samantha Barbash, Roselyn Leo, Karina Pascucci, and Marsi Rosen—with grifting more than $200,000 from their marks, with one of them admitting to the crime while being secretly recorded. Charges of forgery, conspiracy, grand larceny, and assault were handed down. The four negotiated plea deals; Barbash and Keo received probation and fines, while Pascussi and Rosen served 16 weekends each at Rikers Island. (Prosecutors predictably had trouble getting the men to admit they had been duped.) The film stemmed from a 2015 New York magazine profile by Jessica Pressler, which was heavy on the salacious details but short on actual remorse. “Don’t tell me you love me,” Leo said of her victims. “That means I know I can milk you for everything, and then some.”

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

American Murder: The Family Next Door: 6 Facts About Chris Watts and the Psychology of Family Killers

The Watts family is featured in American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020).
The Watts family is featured in American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020).
Shanann Watts/2020 via Netflix

In 2018, the world watched in horror as husband and father of two Chris Watts seemed to transform before their eyes. Initially seen as a grief-stricken husband and father searching for his missing family, Watts soon became one of the most hated men in America when he confessed that he had murdered his pregnant wife Shannan and their two young daughters, Bella and Celeste. 

Using security footage from the Watts's Colorado home and the couple's own personal communications, Netflix’s true-crime documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door tells the heartbreaking story of the Watts family. While the streaming giant packed a lot of information about the tragedy into its 83-minute running time—including several clips of Shanann Watts speaking about Chris and her family, which she documented on social media—it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Especially about why a seemingly happy husband and dad would suddenly snap and kill his entire family.

If you're looking to dig further into the case, and learn more about the unique psychology of what is usually referred to as a family annihilator or family killer, read on to discover some fascinating facts about the Watts case that weren't covered in Netflix’s documentary. **Spoilers ahead.**

1. Family annihilators generally fit into one of four basic profiles.

Family annihilator is the term used by criminologists to describe a person who murders their own family. In 2013, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice published a study on the characteristics of family annihilators, based on a paper examining 30 years’ worth of newspaper archives. The study noted that assailants are typically male and fall into one of four categories: Self-Righteous, Disappointed, Anomic (Socially Unstable), and/or Paranoid.

In addition to fitting the gender part of the profile, Chris Watts has also been shown to exhibit self-righteous behavior. According to the research, family killers who exhibit self-righteous behavior often seek to blame their spouse for both the crime and any familial strain leading up to the murders. Watts showed this when he told detectives that it was Shanann who killed the kids, prompting him to then kill her out of rage. Watts later recanted this when describing the murders of his daughters by his own hands.

2. Family killers don't usually have a criminal history.

Chris Watts during his court hearing in American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020).Courtesy of Netflix/2020

According to the same 2013 study, family killers are unique in that most of them have no history of mental illness nor any criminal record. And most of them seem to be happy family men (or women) before their crimes.

3. financial strain can Be a Major Trigger for Family KIllers.

Although family annihilators have not been studied as much as serial killers or other mass murderers, it still befuddled the public that a seemingly loving father and husband could plan something so horrific.

But when compared to other family killers, there seems to be one commonality that stands out: financial strain. Financial issues are considered to be the second most common motive for family killers to act, according to The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice study.

As with the case of John List, who confessed in a letter that his 1971 family murders were due to finances, Chris Watts appears to have had money issues of his own. The Watts family filed for bankruptcy in 2015 after the couple racked up medical and credit card debt, as well as debt attributed to department store shopping and student loans.

4. Many family annihilators choose to commit their crimes in August.

One odd bit of data gleaned from all this research is that family annihilators most often commit their horrific crimes during the month of August. Why August? Professor David Wilson, director of Birmingham City University’s Centre for Applied Criminology and one of the paper’s authors, theorizes that it may be due to children not yet starting school, and the murderer having access. Another explanation could be parental stress after children are home for months during the summer break, which could worsen other issues like finances and marriage.

Chris Watts murdered his family in the early morning hours of August 13, 2018.

5. Chris Watts has spoken out from prison to express that he wants “a normal life” for his Mistress.

Chris Watts and his mistress in American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020).Courtesy of Netflix/2020

As more details surrounding the Watts case came to light, the public learned that, just as Shannan had suspected, there was another woman in Chris's life: geologist Nichol Kessinger. Kessinger sat down with detectives after learning about the murders and asserted that she didn’t know anything about Chris's plans.

Since then, Watts has sat down with Denver 7 for a nearly 5-hour prison interview to discuss his crimes and what led up to them. During the conversation, Watts spoke at length about his relationship with Kessinger. When asked if he wished he could talk to her he replied yes, “... just to say I’m sorry this all happened." Watts then went on to say, “Hopefully it’s calmed down since ... I just hope she can have normalcy.”

6. Some viewers swear they saw a ghost in the footage.

Following the American Murder: The Family Next Door's premiere on Netflix, one user took to YouTube to point out a rather strange detail: The image of what some believe is a ghost.

The YouTube video above features a clip from the first 15 minutes of the documentary, which is captured via police body cam, and many people think that what they're seeing on the screen is a ghost—perhaps of one of the Watts daughters who was killed. Others, however, refute the paranormal claims, stating that it’s likely the daughter of Nickole Atkinson, a friend of Shannan's and the person who first alerted the police to her disappearance.